JJ Thames ‘Tell You What I Know’ (DeChamp Records) 5/5

JJ-ThamesI’m fast approaching sixty and having bought my first soul record at the age of twelve (listening from the age of ten) you would think that I no longer get excited about a new release, or the acquisition of an illusive 45 or album from the dim and distant past – well you would be wrong. I had been waiting three long weeks for this eleven tracker to drop through the door, was the wait worth it? oh yes indeed it was. I’ll tell you now this is the best new black female voice to surface since Ann Nesby spoilt us with her first album all those years ago. A lovely mixture of ballads, strollers, mid-tempo dancers, straight soul, blues and with an overall jazzy feeling to the proceedings we are spoilt for choice. Straight then the subtle strolling dancer “Just Enough” – the bastard child of the brilliant Preston Shannon “The way that I love you” from his 2006 album “Be with me tonight” (yes its that good), Preston Shannon is huge for me and always puts bodies onto the floor, “Just enough” will go onto become as revered, I’m sure of that. Serious radio plays then for the scintillating ballad that is “Tell you what I know” up there with the likes of Jennifer Holliday “And I’m telling you”. I know I’m making comparisons but sometimes it helps to put the tracks into some modern day perspective. “I got what you need” is a southern style dancer which will appeal to some of the hard nosed crowd, I’m not going to review this album track by track, space don’t allow that, but If you buy this and you don’t get it, then I suggest you take up soot juggling, stamp collecting or some other mundane, banal past-time and leave the serious stuff to the rest of us.

Brian Goucher

Peter Edwards Trio ‘Safe and Sound’ (Edwards Music) 4/5

Peter-EdwardsYoung pianist Peter Edwards is a postgraduate of Trinity College of Music who has recorded with the Abram Wilson quartet as well as co-writing material and arranging the excellent latest album by Zara McFarlane ‘If you knew her’. Having studied under the likes of Gary Crosby and Liam Noble among others, the trio was formed by Edwards in 2010 and comprises twenty-five year old Max Luthert on the double bass and twenty-two year old Moses Boyd on the drums with the leader now in his early thirties. Peter Edwards has soaked up the influences of acoustic period Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Ahmad Jamal, yet has still managed to create his own individual sound and the all bar one original compositions are on the whole excellent, at once challenging and melodic. Immediately of interest is the delicious bass line that greets the listener on the Latin-jazz flavoured ‘Meet you at El Malecón’ on which Edwards really stretches out over a repeated bass riff. On the title track the use of repetitive piano vamps and drum rolls is reminiscent of EST and this both a deeply lyrical and soulful number. The reflective piece ‘Desdemona’s tears’ provides the opportunity for Luthert to shine with an intricate solo while Edwards muse in the background while ‘Hustle Bustle does exactly what it says on the proverbial musical tin. The trio have performed this year at the Pizza Express in Soho and the best is still very much to come with the old adage that practice makes perfect applying here. Definitely a name to watch out for in the next few years to come.

Tim Stenhouse

J.C. Sanford ‘Views from the inside’ (Whirlwind) 3/5

JC-SanfordMulti-talented trombonist and composer-conductor J.C. Sanford has undertaken a vastly ambitious project here and, if at times it is a tad too clever for its own good, it is a captivating and enthralling ride all the same. Classical and jazz traditions meet head on in terms of both the instrumentation (cor anglais, French horn and strings as well as brass and rhythm section, plus accordion for even greater eclecticism) and approach with a near symphonic piece on the fifteen minute title track. At best the influence of the great Gil Evans can be heard as on ‘Sky Good’ with vibes and a warm tenor saxophone solo from Chris Bacas. Ideally, this writer would like to hear more of this side of the large ensemble where jazz timbres reign supreme. There are definite hints of Mingus in one of the urban suite numbers, ‘Brooklyn Vignette #5’ aka ‘2nd and 7th’ with fine ensemble work from the brass that recalls ‘Scenes in the City’ and solo trombone playing from Mark Patterson. From a classical perspective, Leonard Bernstein’s influence can be heard on ‘Your word alone’ with a sound akin to a dramatic film score depicting an edgy, fast-paced urban landscape. A more reflective side is demonstrated on the gentle tranquillity of ‘Robins in snow’ with a welcome opportunity to hear Sanford the instrumentalist in full flow while on ‘An attempt at serenity’ the intro hints at the Star Trek theme while the rest ends up sounding like a suite from Holst’s ‘The Planets’. The composer has rightly gained a reputation for his writing with his compositions covered by musicians of the calibre of John Abercrombie and Dave Liebman. Creating in some parts simpler pieces would greatly enhance his work in general, but this is unquestionably a musician with a lucid vision and that is surely going to pay dividends in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘Far Out presents: Brazilian Bass’ (Far Out) 4/5

far-out-bassBass culture is instinctively associated with either Jamaican dub and dancehall, or else hip-hop. However, Brazil has long soaked up these external musical flavours and internalised them with elements of samba. Far Out’s latest project has had the foresight to showcase this underground scene to a wider international audience. The capital of Brazilian bass happens to be Salvador which is the main city in the state of Bahia, situated in the north-east of the country and where the African heritage reaches its highest point. It is also the land where Afro-Brazilian religious cults such as candomblé predominates and where the sensuous melodies of composer Dorival Caymmi and his multi-talented musical family prevail. It is also the state that rightly regards itself as the very essence of Brazilian culture as wonderfully illustrated by that genius of words, writer Jorge Amado in his seminal book, ‘Bahia of all the Saints’, that is required reading for all budding scholars of Brazilian culture and understanding the north-eastern Brazilian psyche.

Brazilians are, by their very nature. open-minded about the music they listen to and this is reflected in the esoteric approach to the essentially hybrid music that is contained within this new compilation. Take the example of Mental Abstrato and DJ Tahira who come across as something akin to a Brazilian equivalent of Berlin’s Jazz Kollectiv and the number ‘Balão’ features some tasty accordion and keyboard amid a lovely jazzy bass line and samba percussion. Roots reggae became very popular in Brazil and the 1970s heart of the sub-genre has been retained by Junior Dread featuring Black Alien on ‘Lutar’ which could just as easily be out of Kingston but for the Portugese lyrics. Horn-led melodic dub reigns supreme on ‘Travessias’ by Aton dub with flute adding to the mix while instrumental dub effects envelope the female vocals of Anelis on ‘Bola com os amigos’. Those who yearn for another take on rootsy clubland electronica in a Brazilian setting aka Bebel Gilberto will be at ease with the instrumental ‘Pequi week bar’ by Sistema Carolina which has some catchy, if cheesy Latin keyboard vamps and acoustic guitar accompaniment. Meanwhile fans of traditional samba will be happy that they are catered for on the brass-led ‘Samba de novato’ by Banda Escola Pública while psychedelic grooves complete with rhythm guitar predominate on ‘Blindness’ by 3 Adub featuring Pitshu. Elsewhere reggaeton and samba combine on Bemba trios’ ‘Melô do Vatapá’. Overall, a fine example of contemporary Brazilian music and expertly selected by a triumvirate of Far Out owner Joe Davis and Brazilian music aficionados Jay Joannou and Vanessa Viola.

Tim Stenhouse

Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté ‘Toumani and Sidiki’ (World Circuit) 4/5

Toumani and SidikiIf you have ever wondered how the sound of the harp might be transposed into an African context, then the West African twenty-one string kora is most certainly worth checking out and Toumani Diabaté from Mali is undoubtedly its current major practitioner. Diabaté is something of a veteran on the world roots music scene having recorded his first solo album back in 1988 and, among a host of collaborations, recorded the memorable duet album with the late great Ali Farka Touré. For this latest project he is joined by his twenty-three year old son Sidiki and this can best be described as a reposing father-son musical journey. In keeping with the Griot family tradition, the musical roots of the Diabaté family go back several generations and thus music is considered with due reverence by the close knit circle of musicians. Recorded in the Malian capital Bamako under the expert ears of Jerry Boys and co-produced by Nick Gold and Lucy Duran, this is akin to hearing the musicians perform in your living room and other than the twin sounds of the kora, no other instrumentation is required. The opening composition ‘Hamadou Toure’ sets the reflective pace and if there is any music capable of taking away the stresses and strains of daily modern life, then this is surely it. A heart warming tribute to the African migrants who paid with their lives for seeking to cross the Mediterranean is laid down on ‘Lampedusa’ while for a gradual build up of intensity and tension ‘Claudia and Salma’ could hardly be bettered. Glorious and timeless music. A UK and Irish tour will commence on 20 May including a concert at the RNCM in Manchester on 24 May and will conclude in Dublin on 7 June.

Tim Stenhouse

Various ‘The Big Hit Dances’ (Righteous) 4/5

The-Big-Hit-DancesIt was on a superb compilation devoted to the late-night club scene in 1960s London, ‘From Route 66 to the Flamingo’, that this writer first heard Phil Upchurch and Combo’s stunning ‘You can’t sit down’ and here it is showcased in its full two-part versions and serves as the centrepiece for a fascinating trip back down memory lane to the R & B meets jazz influenced 45s that captured the jukeboxes and hippest night club of the late 1950s and early-mid 1960s with new dance crazes of the time the unifying theme. If the tasty guitar licks of the Upchurch combo took your fancy first time round, then there is plenty of other music to capture the heart and soul and Upchurch himself is leader on no less than nine numbers. Indeed another highlight is the guitar and brass led organ groove of ‘Here it ’tis – the roach’ which comes across as a classic Blue Note tune of the era. King Curtis and the Noble Knights turn up on a piano dominated number with honking saxophone on ‘Soul Twist’.

A gem of a track and fitting nicely into the They most certainly do not make them like this anymore’ category is ‘The Madison Time Pt. 1’ by the Ray Bryant Combo which features a lengthy monologue with a modal Miles Davis brass background and a terrific tenor saxophone solo. The original author’s version of ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ by Chris Keener and late made into a hit by Wilson Pickett is not as gritty as the Wicked Mr. Pickett version, but worth the admission price all the same. Some New Orleans funk enters the equation on Ernie K-Doe’s ‘Popeye Joe’ and there is truly hypnotic riff by Nat Kendrick and the Swans on ‘(Do the) Mashed Potato (Pt. 1)’. For one of the precursors of a major dance craze, look no further than Hank Ballard and the Midnighters epic ‘The Twist’.

Blue Note would take a leaf out of these 45s and issue a whole series of organ combo and soul-jazz singles by the likes of Lou Donaldson, Horace Silver and Jimmy Smith among a host of others deliberately aimed at the urban African-American audience who liked listening to the latest sounds while grooving the night away. It was a marketing ploy that delivered handsomely and the music on this compilation could just as easily comprise an evening’s entertainment in one of these now defunct clubs.

Tim Stenhouse

Barry Brown ‘The Thompson Sound 1979-82’ (Hot Milk/Cherry Red) 4/5

Barry-BrownSinger Barry Brown tragically passed away at the young age of forty-two in 2004 following an accidental head injury and left behind a musical legacy that is a decade on only just being unravelled. This excellent selection of unreleased songs is no inferior left-over material, but rather a fine example of the reggae singer at his creative peak when he was capable of effortlessly straddling the dividing line between roots and dancehall styles. In this respect and in terms of his falsetto vocal delivery, he joins the likes of Barrington Levy, Freddy McGregor and Sugar Minott in being equally adept in either style. The sessions that comprise this anthology of his work with ace producer Linval Thompson (who would also produce Freddy McGregor and Rod Taylor) are during a relatively brief period, but were a key transitional moment in the history of Jamaican music and a deeply turbulent one from both a political and social perspective.

As was the case with Thompson productions of the period, the music was recorded at Channel One with the notable accompaniment of the Roots Radics and mixed at King Tubby’s studio by Scientist which simply put means this is bona fide reggae heaven. The music contained within veers between strictly roots social concerns and heavier dancehall riddims. The former is best exemplified on numbers such as ‘Can’t stop Natty Dread’ which is none other than a rhythm makeover of the Wailing Souls’ ‘Who know waan come’ and a terrific uplifting tune it is too. Inventive percussion and repetitive organ dominates ‘Ketch a fire’ which has a genuine sense of urgency to it while ‘It rough my brother’, in spite of the downbeat lyrics, has a joyous quality that overrides the subject matter. Elsewhere sparse dancehall grooves permeate ‘Mount Zion’ with pared down instrumentation and some nifty guitar work to boot. Of note is the absence of horns throughout, yet the other musicians more than make up for this

Barry Brown was a musician who consistently scored quality 45s that are available on compilations and on excellent albums of which ‘Showcase’ and ‘Step it up Youthman’ are two of the strongest. This new addition is well up to par and fills in the gaps which any self-respecting reggae fan will wish to be conversant with. Extended and highly informative inner sleeve notes from reggae connoisseur and musicologist David Katz set the scene admirably on Barry Brown’s action-packed career.

Tim Stenhouse

Melanie de Biasio ‘No deal’ (Pias) 4/5

Melanie-de-BiasioBelgian songstress Melanie De Biasio may just have come up with the left-field album of the summer on this wonderfully individual recording. The sparse sounding accompaniment of her band compliments the voice perfectly and the vocals sound as though de Biasio has been heavily influenced by Nina Simone and parallels with the very early part of Cassandra Wilson’s career are not totally misplaced. There is a genuine sense of intimacy and the haunting arrangements make for some thrilling listening pleasures. Her influences are truly eclectic and take in the likes of chanteuse Barbara and Pink Floyd from her parents collection while her own musical interests have included Abbey Lincoln and Betty Davis alongside Talk Talk. Although a native French speaker, Melanie De Biasio is fluent in English and all the lyrics on this debut album are in Shakespeare’s language. An immediate winner is ‘I’m gonna leave you’ with austere intro, repetitive bass line and utterly compelling sparse drum beats. Another is the flute-led (another instrument de Biasio performs on here) opener ‘I feel you’. There are hints at Joni Mitchell from her ‘Blue’ album on the pared down piano and vocals of ”No Deal’ with minimalist strings. Little wonder that DJ Gilles Peterson has become a champion of her music. If Melanie de Biasio can reproduce this kind of form on a regular basis, she is destined to become one of the key singers of the next decade. Tim Stenhouse

Imed Alibi ‘Safar’ (Wayward) 3/5

Imed-AlibiHere is an interesting and relatively new trend within world roots. Twenty-first century Arabic music with multiple cultural influences from around the globe that range from Arabic classical to rock and dance beats. Percussionist Imed Alibi has surrounded himself with a truly eclectic line up of musicians that includes a Tunisian violinist, Zied Zouari, French bassist, Pascal Teillet, and Brazilian percussionist Zé Luis Nascimento with the album being produced by Justin Adams. Additional Middle Eastern instrumentation comes in the form of the qanun (a type of zither), ney as well as the accordion. Berber and Sufi rhythms interweave with elements of rock and electronica. If at times the rock and heavy beats component are just a tad too heavy for this writer’s taste, then that should not detract from the ambitious aims of allying such disparate genres into one cohesive whole. The mix works best on the starkly haunting piece ‘Nafass’ with the delicious sound of the qanun to the fore and more of this pared down sound would serve the band well on subsequent projects. There is a dramatic use of Arabic classical strings plus darbouka and violin on ‘Fanfare d’Alexandrie’ and a shift in tempo part way through with some 1970s style Miles trumpet blown by Michel Marre. Another successful fusion comes across on ‘M.H.D.’ with wordless vocals Indian style and relentless percussion, but crucially minus the guitars that elsewhere have a tendency to get in the way of appreciating the multi-layered sound. In part this album has the ambience of a film soundtrack and if only the rockier side can be toned down, this band has a serious future ahead of them. Tim Stenhouse

Karin Krog and John Surman ‘Songs about this and that’ (Meantime) 4/5

Karin-Krog_John-SurmanVocal and reed duets are an occasional, but nonetheless very welcome combination in jazz, and so it proves with the pairing of Norwegian vocalist Karin Krog, who has in the distant past teamed up with Dexter Gordon among others, and Cornish multi-reedist John Surman who is quite simply one of the UK’s very finest musicians. The underlying theme on this latest project is that of everyday aspects of life, hence the choice of title, and the quintet comprising acoustic and electric guitar, vibes, bass and drums and Surman’s own impressive array of reed instrumentation makes for a fine accompaniment to Krog’s always inventive and never formulaic vocals. This is music that could only come out for Scandinavia such is the peaceful and reposing nature of the sounds created and at a tempo that almost seems specifically designed to heal the soul. A truly uplifting song is unsurprisingly named ‘Happy Song’ and here the use of baritone saxophone, vocals and guitar lends a wonderful intimacy to the number. In an altogether more haunting vein, ‘Mirror Song’ features Surman on bass recorder and the sound produced evokes a deeply Nordic landscape with a church-like warmth and some lovely Metheny-esque guitar licks from Bjorn Klakegg as well as a vibes solo. For some austere and pared down instrumentation, the atmospheric opener ‘Cherry Tree Song’ fits the bill while ‘Question Song’ has more of an experimental feel and in its use of electric keyboards conveys a moodier and sombre ambience.

Some comment finally should be made of the creative graphics by Siste Skrik and Nina Regine Hjelle that spawn the cover art and this harks back to the art deco era and is a wonderful way of capturing the music in visual form. The music incidentally was jointly composed by the lead pair for the 2010 Voss jazz festival in Norway and was recorded at the legendary Rainbow studio in Oslo.

Tim Stenhouse